We have an identity crisis and need to fix it immediately!
Tuesday July 13, 2021,
6 min Read
It is easy to talk philosophy. It does not matter if you are in an inebriated state or not. Late-night talks with our close ones are our panacea for dealing with absurdities in our life. I expose the insecurities of my life to my friends. It makes sense because they are also in the same phase of life as mine. In this context, my friend and I were discussing life. I am not a big earner and was fussing about how much my colleagues were earning. Suddenly a question dawned in my mind, "Dude, How much money would be exactly Ok for us?"
He replied, " More than your neighbour".
This statement had a profound impact on me. Common sense would dictate to us that the purpose of earning is to feed ourselves and take care of our needs. But are we commonsensical? Why is it reassuring for us to have a salary as much as our peers, even if the work we do is pure B.S?
We thrive on social sanction. Surprisingly, we have a unanimous consensus on what "success", "greatness" is. It might seem puzzling, but if we think about it, the following would be the idea of success for most of us: Power and prestige.
Anything that gives you power and prestige will help you climb the social ladder. These are, in fact, the main reasons why the caste systems survive, even after so many years. It has become the heart of our existence. Until recently, upward social mobility was difficult. With the caste system getting diluted slowly (or is it?), we found a new way to climb the social ladder - Money.
Money is associated with power and prestige since time immemorial. Hence nothing is surprising here. But with the advent of economic reforms, people in the lower strata of the social hierarchy can make money now. To have a good job is to signal who you are and that you deserve respect.
If there is any proof that is needed to say power and prestige are central to our lives, Indian cinema would be the epitome of it. The mass hero culture and deification of sportspeople and actors prevail in our country because we prostrate before power. It feels like we have an unhealthy addiction to it. We desperately want to be unique, to be a cynosure of all eyes or earn respect. But on aspiring to be different from others, we are all the same.
Do I need to explain why Pompous weddings are nothing but our assertions of class and status? For that one eventful (or uneventful) day, people go berserk and spend a significant part of their life savings. They are willing to pay that price to assert themselves, to prove themselves to society.
Tata Nano - A Failure in epic proportions! Why? Because we do not want to get associated ourselves with "cheap car". Ola and Uber are successful because they are expanding luxury to the middle class, therefore, prestige!
Our identity is imposed on us externally and does not come from inside. For instance, my parents impose their religious beliefs on me. Society imposes caste, class and even gender identity upon me. It is a carefully vetted process. Any deviation from the norm would mean loss of status and respect.
The readers of this essay would point out the obvious flaw in my argument of identity. Isn't that how identities develop anyway? When someone is born with a blank slate, you have to fill something in it, right?
I accept the above with a small addition. The filling of the blank slate should be organic and mostly left to the individual. People around us have too much say on how should be our identity. We also rarely question it. Let the process of deciding what is right and wrong rest with the individual.
Looking back at my life, I had never had the feeling that I was the master of my fate. I never had such confidence. There is a beautiful quote from the book Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe: The Problem with my life was that it was someone else's idea.
An individualistic person is naturally confident. He has developed his identity organically and has more say on what should be his identity. If a person has more confidence, he is also less insecure. There is a lot to introspect on why we are one of the unhappiest countries in the world. How many of us are risk-takers? How many of us feel comfortable when we are non-conformant? With so much insecurity and lack of confidence, how can we be happy? We are cowards because we lack identity.
Capitalism is sometimes (and rightly so) blamed for the general emptiness in life. Before the Industrial Revolution, we did not have the concept of consumerism. While the Industrial Revolution created more jobs, it also paved too many avenues to consume stuff. Suddenly, we did not know how much will be sufficient for us. Intelligent Entrepreneurs created novel technologies to create new needs. The idea of what is necessary became blunt.
I am afraid that we are becoming incapable of constructing our identity. The lust for power and prestige (which in turn is status and respect) has paralyzed our brains. We have a nasty obsession with seeking social sanction for everything. With social media's addictive algorithms messing with our brains, there is no time to sit and allow the train of thoughts to take us over. Only when we introspect and question ourselves, we begin to understand who we are.
We often are asked to follow our dreams and quit our meaningless jobs. I wholeheartedly welcome this, except that I want to insert a word of caution. Let us assume that one wants to become a doctor/ an IAS officer/ a photographer. It is crucial to understand the intent of why they want to become one. Is it just because these professions give you some status and to prove yourself to others? If that is the case, that person might fail in these endeavours. In the name of following their passion, they are craving societal respect and attention.
If we discover who we are first and then follow our dreams, there will be pleasure in pursuing our dreams.
Let us come out of the imaginary race of who is going to become rich first. Allocating ourselves a "me time" will allow us to think clearly. The more we think clearly, the more we question our beliefs. By choosing what we want and discarding stuff we do not need, we can develop our own identity. We can gain confidence in this way and feel less insecure and happier.